Did Gerald Sensabaugh Talk His Way Out of Dallas?

In 2009, I was excited with the news that Gerald Sensabaugh had joined the Cowboys. In need of a safety - some wounds just won't heal - Dallas signed a young strong safety capable of both pressing the box and keeping up in man coverage, something missing since the days of Darren Woodson. He even had connections to coach Dave Campo who said as much - as was reported back then by Rob Phillips at the Mothership - and Sensabaugh even showed flashes of it on the field.

Saturday inside the Alamodome, Sensabaugh provided two examples in one-on-one drills that he's indeed an upgrade against the pass:

  • On one play, tight end Martellus Bennett used a double move to get inside separation on a skinny post, but Sensabaugh quickly recovered and knocked the ball away.
  • Then he stayed stride-for-stride with speedy rookie receiver Kevin Ogletree for 40 yards down the middle of the field and batted down the pass in the end zone.

Not to drift off point, but Bennett and Ogletree haven't become the greatest of receiving threats for us - for various reasons and some shared - yet they both appear to have the ability. The same can be said for Sensabaugh. His first year with the Cowboys Sensabaugh couldn't seem to turn a pass deflection into an interception, but was a solid tackler and played well beside free safety Ken Hamlin. But he wasn't great. Think back to the playoffs, Sensabaugh has great coverage on Sydney Rice against Minnesota, but didn't find the ball to make the play and instead allowed a 50-yard touchdown. He had talent, but not consistency. If you look at Sensabaugh's stats his second year, 2010, you would be pleased by his performance. It would seem he is taking the right steps. But something seems off about Sensabaugh.

Dave Campo again spoke about him before the 2010 season, but this time his words did not reflect the same enthusiasm of having the next Woodson on your team. Dallasnews.com reported some interviews Campo gave about Akwasi Owusu-Ansaha as a draft pick and the potential he'd shown during the offseason. When asked about the need for a play-caller in the secondary to help young guys like Alan Ball, AOA, or Pat Watkins, this is what Campo had to say about Sensabaugh stepping up to take that role:

"We're going to see how it goes. I think (Sensabaugh) can do it. I think (Sensabaugh) is a better player when he doesn't have to do it. I think he's a better player when he just gets lined up. But I think those guys have to work together...

Here's what Sensabaugh said before that same 2010 season as reported by Nick Eatman at the Mothership.

"Basically as a safety, (the free safety) is going to have to control his side. It could be two different calls on each side. It's all about managing your side," Sensabaugh said. "Our defense is full of veterans - everybody has played. It's not like we have to quarterback or babysit anybody. All the guys back there have made a lot of plays."

It started sounding like Sensabaugh didn't want to be a leader and tried to ignore the need for one while Campo played politician trying to explain the situation...and Sensabaugh didn't want to hear it.

What he had to hear were a lot of questions about his restricted free agent status and whether he would get a mutli-year deal instead of just a one-year tender. At least then he was saying all the right things.

"A contract is a contract. As long as I'm getting better as a player, I don't mind (practicing this week)," Sensabaugh said. "It seems like it's the topic everywhere you go, but that will all take care of itself. I'm just trying to be the best player I can be. If I work out a contract, I work out a contract. If I don't, I guess I go elsewhere. I like being here in Dallas and I'm going to do my best to play at a high level."

Well, during the 2010 season I saw more than enough blame-game finger-pointing occurring after big play touchdowns to think that our secondary was in desperate need of a leader. Yet, while Sensabaugh had his fair share of struggles during the Wade Phillips portion of the 2010 season, he did manage to tie the team lead for interceptions with five and bank a lot of pass deflections and tackles. It seems Campo was right. Sensabaugh "is a better player when he doesn't have to do it" - try to be a leader. While everyone is aware of how the Cowboys struggled against the pass in 2010, Sensabaugh took care of himself and played well.

It appears Sensabaugh now wants to cash in on his performance. As reported by ESPN Dallas:  

"I'm going to make myself available to all 32 teams, shop myself around and see exactly what happens," Sensabaugh said Monday on ESPN 103.3's Galloway and Company. "I'm just really excited about my chance to cash in."

With the kickoff to a 2011 season still on the fragile horizon, with news of a 72-hour exclusive free agent re-signing period, and with the team in a seemingly tight spot with the projected salary cap numbers...Sensabaugh has decided to wait it out and market himself to the highest bidder. At a time when the team could still use a leader in the secondary, at a time when leaders are talking about how excited they are to get back on the field with their teammates...it sounds like Sensabaugh will not re-sign during the time allotted the Cowboys before every free agent becomes unrestricted. I understand a player will want to market himself to get the best contract. But a leader usually negotiates with his team, behind closed doors, and then goes looking for more money if a deal can't be made.

It seems Sensabaugh has changed a lot since before the 2010 season when he was "just trying to be the best player (he could) be." His intentions are a little different this time around.

"I would like to stay in Dallas, but at the end of the day, it's a business thing," Sensabaugh said. "I've got to choose what's best for myself and what situation fits me the best...

Senabaugh said he has "a price in my mind that I would take." If more than one team gets in the ballpark, Sensabaugh said he would pick the best fit, even if it's a team that didn't offer the most money.

"If more than one team," so don't be expecting a quick signing with the Cowboys. Unfortunately for Sensabaugh, while he is looking for the situation that fits him best, it seems he may no longer be the best fit for the Cowboys. Perhaps he misunderstood his head coach, Jason Garrett, as he explained the right kind of guy for his football team.  Perhaps Sensabaugh didn't hear Garrett talk about wanting players that try to be great today and everyday that follows until they get a chance to be great in the greatest game of all...not a guy looking to cash (it) in and hold their team hostage until he becomes unrestricted.  

After my first draft of this article, Dave suggested I take another look because it seemed that I was losing my objectivity and just sounding angry. He was right. I was angry and it showed. It's upsetting that a player with his abilities can't be the leader at safety the Cowboys so desperately need. I am angry that Sensabaugh apparently laughed at the size of his prior $1.82 million salary and explained that figure was "not in the same zip code" as what he's targeting; angry that Sensabaugh doesn't appear to be the right kind of guy. But I have since found peace...thinking the Cowboys new head coach (if not salary cap issues) will force Sensabaugh to cash in somewhere else.  

But there is good news on the horizon. Sensabaugh is positioning himself to try and get a big offer from the Texans.

 "I could definitely see that if Dallas doesn't work out," Sensabaugh said. "Wade's a good guy, I already know his system and it would be an easy transition for me. I wouldn't have to learn anything new, and at the same time, I'd be able to help the other guys learn Wade's system. I could see that becoming an option."

I hope he has fun at a place where he won't have to learn anything. I hope he has fun playing with Wade, because I'm hoping for Cowboys that like learning and working with Garrett and Rob Ryan.

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